Parents and children

Children are significant in their relationships with their parents in The Winter's Tale.

More on parents and children in Shakespeare: The relationships between parents and children feature at the centre of many, if not most, Shakespearean dramas. This is unsurprising given that this is a crucial relationship for all human beings; but Shakespeare seems to find it more fascinating than most playwrights.

The taming of the shrewEven where no parents actually appear, they are important - it is her father's will which motivates Portia in The Merchant of Venice, even though he is dead. In the same play, Jessica's relationship with her father is a significant issue, as is Katherina and Bianca's with their father in The Taming of the Shrew. Lear's relationship with his three daughters and the Duke of Gloucester's with his two sons are the motivations of the parallel plots in King Lear.

Mothers and daughters

Interestingly, it is rare for Shakespeare to depict relationships between mothers and daughters in The Winter's Tale:

  • Perdita is seen with her adoptive father, the Old Shepherd, who mentions (in Act IV, sc iv) ‘when my old wife liv'd' – there is no longer a Mrs Shepherd
  • As for Perdita and her real mother, we see only one scene – the very last in the play – where Perdita meets Hermione. Even then, though asked to ‘pray your mother's blessing', Shakespeare gives Perdita no words to say to her long-lost parent.

Parents and sons

However, the play shows both Hermione and Leontes enjoying a good-natured relationship with their son. Even as his jealousy is growing (in I. ii.), Leontes speaks affectionately about, and to, his boy:

‘How sometimes nature will betray its folly,
Its tenderness, and make itself a pastime
To harder bosoms! Looking on the lines
Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil
Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreech'd,
In my green velvet coat ….
How like, methought, I then was to this kernel,
This squash, this gentleman. Mine honest friend,
Will you take eggs for money?

Hermione, too, though heavily pregnant and so tired that for a few moments (in Act II, sc i) that Mamillius ‘troubles' her ‘past enduring', rapidly calls for him again:

‘Come, sir, now
I am for you again: ‘pray you, sit by us,
And tell's a tale.'

Difficult parent / child relationships

Nevertheless, often in The Winter's Tale we see or hear of the problems between the generations. Youth and age have different views of what constitutes correct behaviour:

  • The first words we hear from the Old Shepherd (in Act III, sc iii) remind us of this:
‘I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting - Hark you now! Would any but these boiled-brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt this weather?
  • Later, at the start of the sheep-shearing scene, the Old Shepherd chides Perdita for not matching the hospitality of his late wife:
‘Fie, daughter! When my old wife liv'd, upon
This day she was both pantler, butler, cook,
Both dame and servant; welcom'd all, serv'd all ...
You are retir'd,
As if you were a feasted one, and not
The hostess of the meeting.'
  • Later in the sheep-shearing scene, the disguised Polixenes challenges his son's decision to marry without his father's permission; no son, he indicates, should contemplate such an act of filial disobedience unless his father were senile:
‘Methinks a father
Is at the nuptial of his son a guest
That best becomes the table. Pray you once more,
Is not your father grown incapable
Of reasonable affairs? …
Reason my son
Should chose himself a wife, but as good reason
The father (all whose joy is nothing else
But fair posterity ) should hold some counsel
In such a business.'

Nevertheless, Florizel feels that he has the right to choose for himself: personal desires are stronger motives for him than a son's duty to his father.

See also - Natural and unnatural development in The Winter's Tale:

Birth and growth Children Sin and innocence Parents and children Time
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